The preparation of food has evolved over the years and while Arabic, Indian, Lebanese and Egyptian food are the dominant flavours in Oman, the country has also started to embrace new, sometimes strange, offerings.
While some food may be an acquired taste, the last five years have been proof enough that residents of Oman are willing to venture into different food experience and this curiosity for something different has given rise and prominence to Asian cuisines like Thai, Chinese and Filipino and even Japanese.
Talking about Japanese, while a lot of people in the Sultanate are now familiar with sushi, some other food preparations had remained strangely unknown.
Case in point the entertaining method of how teppanyaki food is prepared.
“Teppanyaki has its origin in Japan. It’s a method of cooking where they use a very hot plate. Historically, it was introduced by a Japanese restaurant called Mizuno in 1945. But that kind of food preparation was very traditional — it was a cultural thing so it wasn’t very famous,” Chef Rajesh Thapa, Head Chef of Takara Restaurant shared.
Located at the lower ground level of InterContinental Hotel Muscat, Takara brought it the minimalist restaurant-style popularised by the Japanese. The interior was greatly decorated with wood elements that one automatically recognise it to be Asianly-different.
“As we all know, the Second World War happened. This resulted in a lot of Japanese moving to North America. After 1945, while the teppanyaki food preparation wasn’t so successful in Japan, it began to pick up in America. Somehow, there was an amalgamation of culture and style involved,” Chef Rajesh narrated.
“While the traditional and authentic preparation — meat on a hotplate without any fanfare — in Japan didn’t pick up, the American-blended version became a hot thing. The Japanese didn’t modernise but the one that crossed over to America which was infused with chef performances became a hit with the crowd and that is how teppanyaki became recognisable worldwide,” he said.
Simply put, Chef Rajesh shared that teppanyaki came from two Japanese words, teppan which is the metal plate used for cooking and yaki which means grilled or pan-fried or the method of cooking.
It’s very similar to how mishkak is prepared in Oman but instead of the charcoal, one is using a hotplate.
“The way mishkak is done, the seared lines on the meat, that is called robatayaki in Japanese,” he added.
When ordering for teppanyaki, one will be mesmerised the chef performance. The preparation starts with a practise where the chef flips and throws in the air some of the utensils he used for cooking.
One will hear a series of clinking sound as metal hits against metal.
“It usually takes time because the food is prepared before you,” Chef Deky Ismono, Teppanyaki Chef, shared.
“But once it’s ready, you have to eat it fast. It’s good when it’s still hot,” he added.
Teppanyaki, the way Takara prepared it, comes in three batches. The vegetables are cooked first and offered to you to give you an appetiser while you wait for the meat. The fried rice is cooked next and is garnished with very authentic Japanese ingredients.
“We import many of our ingredients. Those we can find locally, we buy from the market here in Oman but we wanted to preserve as much as possible the authentic taste of the food,” Chef Rajesh explained.
“You can have the meat the same way you order a steak. Chicken needs to be fully-cooked to kill the bad bacteria but for beef, for instance, you can have it medium-well or well-done, it’s up to an eater’s preference,” he said.
“Some teppanyaki performances relied on working with fire but here in Oman and the GCC, we have to tone it down and adapt to some restrictions to mitigate risks,” Chef Rajesh shared.
“Instead of fire performances, we put in a different flare into the preparation. You would see the chef doing several flips and turns. This is what teppanyaki is all about — an enjoyable dining experience without compromising the taste and the flavour,” he said.
“We offer a modernised, GCC and Oman-customised performance for our teppanyaki. This is definitely something new to see and everyone would enjoy. While some people may be afraid to try something new, the fact about Japanese cuisines offered in Oman is that the flavour usually had been adjusted so it would work well with the palate of the residents here. You can customise your food order but we can also prepare them authentically,” he said.